May 16, 2018 - Robinson's third Appalachian trail Thru-hike has begun. Find his Field Notes under The Travels tab.
April 20, 2018 - The Latter Half of Inglorious Years is now available from Amazon and bookstores!
March 2, 2018 - The Latter Half of Inglorious Years is finished and has gone to the editor! Look for publication soon!
January 2018 - The Appalachian, Notes from the Field, and Life in Continuum are now available from Ingram, std discounts, rtnble
April 2017 - Returned from Nevis with 15 chapters, new friends, low blood pressure, and a good tan. May I go back now?
November 2016 - Fled to Nevis in the Caribbean
October 31, 2016 - Are there any reading groups out there? Fiction? Science-Fiction? Travel? I will provide up to 10 copies of The Appalachian, Life in Continuum, or Notes from the Field to the first reading group of each genre to get in touch, in exchange for reviews on Amazon.
October 6, 2016 - A second edition of Notes from the Field, with improved maps and updated cover art, is now available.
June 24, 2016 - Field Notes have begun. See Travels page.
June 2016 - Robinson departs for France at the end of this month for a re-hike of the Alps and a reconnection with Hannibal.
May 19, 2016 - Notes from the Field is live on Amazon.com!
April 2016 - Work on Notes from the Field is complete. Look for it in bookstores or on Amazon soon.
Jan 2016 - Robinson is at work on his next book, Notes From the Field: A diary of Journeys Near and Far.
Dec 2015 - The Appalachian has been named to Kirkus Reviews' Best of 2015!
Copyright 2018 by Kirk Ward Robinson
Thursday, May 24, 2018 - Monson, Maine
A week that could as well have been a month, that'the way it feels now that I have slipped into "trail time." I have written about this perceptual peculiarity before, the strange elongation of time that occurs once I have been on the trail long enough for it to displace any connection to my more ordered life back home.
Seven days in Maine's Hundred-Mile Wilderness was more than enough to lull me into this state, but first I had to get here. The journey followed the same steps as each of my previous hikes: the flight to Boston Logan; the Concord Bus within the hour to Bangor, Maine; the Cyr Bus within the hour to Medway, Maine, arriving as the sun is setting; the stay at the Gateway inn there, and then the shuttle to Baxter state Park to begin the hike at Mt. Katahdin--except that this time, due to heavy snows last winter, not just the trails, but even the roads into the park were still closed. All of this occurred nine days ago, but could have been a month or more from my perspective. At least that's the way it feels.
Since I couldn't get into the park to at least start my hike from the Katahdin Stream campground, I started from Abol Bridge instead, bare feet from where the infamous warning sign is posted: THIS IS THE LONGEST WILDERNESS SECTION OF THE ENTIRE A.T. AND ITS DIFFICULTY SHOULD NOT BE UNDERESTIMATED.
Setting out at about 10:00 a.m., under a clear, cool sky, I made a fast, confident pace on a trail that I have hiked twice before, making the 15 miles to Rainbow Stream shelter while the sun was still high enough to break through the canopy. With relief, I fished that heavy copy of my novel, The Appalachian, out of my backpack, signed it with a note to please leave it at the shelter (where Carlton Jeffries will narrate his story), then spent a peaceful, bug-free evening.
The next morning, I lit out early under similar weather conditions for Potawadjo shelter, 18 miles that I barely noticed, met some Maine appalachian Trail Club guys along the way who gave me some extra fuel (since I realized that i hadn't brought enough to make it through the Wilderness), and made the shelter early enough for an almost identical evening.
From then on, things became a bit rougher.
From Potawadjo, I headed for Cooper Brook shelter, just eleven miles on, but here the trail became more rugged. Severe winter storm had downed some really large trees, which crossed the trail like giant matchsticks. Some I could hop over; some I could hike around; but in one are they lay so thick atop one another that I had no choice but to weave and wind through them, tossing my backpack and poles ahead, climbing through, retrieving them and then tossing them again. It took about three hours to get through this. When I made Cooper Brook, it was late and I was exhausted, scratched and contused. This was my first tough day.
After Cooper Brook, my next shelter was Logan Brook on the north side of White Cap Mountain, another eleven miles of blowdowns and flooded trail. The going was slow, similar to the previous day, and I slid into my sleeping bag just as exhausted.
Day five meant that it was time to summit White Cap Mountain which, because there had been so many winter storms, was bound to be deeper in snow than my previous hikes, and this proved to be the case. For a mere seven miles, I spent and entire, exhaustive day post-holing upward through snow to my knees, often having to skirt or climb over blowdowns. The weather turned at the summit, going from sunny and warm to cloudy and cold in minutes--and then it began to rain.
The descent to Newhall shelter was no better, but at least gravity was now on my side. I did reach the shelter early in the day, wanted to go on after only seven miles, but I was too tired, the weather was too poor, and I was going hypothermic at any rate. so I made hot food, and then got into my bag to warm up and wait it out. The sun broke later in the afternoon, and with it came two northbound section hikers, young men just graduated from college and doing their last outing together before embarking on their careers. They gave me some food since I was running low, and we spent an enjoyable evening. By the next morning, it was time for things to really get hard.
I knew I wanted out of the Hundred-Mile Wilderness in seven days, not only because I was running low on food, but because I wanted to beat my time in 2008. To do this, though, I was going to have to pull a seventeen-mile hike to Cloud Pond shelter and then a nineteen-mile hike into Monson, and this over Chairback Mountain and many other steep summits, all along grades that are so steep that you often have to pull yourself up the trail by grasping roots and the trunks of trees and then lower yourself the same way. There were rock scrambles to negotiate, beaver ponds that had engulfed the trail, and clouds of frenzied blackflies that i could wipe from my face like blowing sand. It was hellish.
I reached Cloud Pond shelter as the sun was setting, so tired that I broke my own rule and did not wash up before getting into my sleeping bag. I awoke at sunrise, about 4:30 a.m., feeling sticky, emaciated, and weak. I was on the trail by 6:00 a.m., desperate to evaporate those last nineteen miles, the feel of a hot shower on my skin and the taste of cold beer in my mouth. I have hiked over forty miles in one pull before. Surely I could conquer a mere nineteen miles...
The forest was Faustian, full of bogs and bugs and climbs and slips and falls and suffocating blackflies. By noon I had only made ten miles, so dubious about my prospects that considered rolling up in my rain coat alongside the trail, anything to get the blackflies out of my face.
I had no more food, no snacks, no calories to add. I had already lost ten pounds, even my reserves were limited.
Three miles from the highway to Monson, about 5:30 p.m., I was spent. there is a shelter at this point, Leeman. I have never stayed in that shelter, but I was so exhausted, so bedraggled, that I gave up my goals of showers and beer and crawled inside to wait out the night and hopefully recover enough strength to get out the next day.
It was the blackflies that convinced me otherwise. They followed me into the shleter, of course, were as bad there as on the trail. In a huff of disgust, I shouldered my pack and set out again, now about 6:00 p.m., trudged with just enough energy to put one foot in fronmt of the other, and in two more hours, crossed those remaining three miles.
A lucky hitch on the highway got me into Monson after dark. shaw's Hostel wasn't open yet, so I went to Lakeshore House Pub and Lodging nearby, which was also closed. I pounded on the door and windows in desperation. Fortunately someone heard me, and within minutes I was being hugged by Rebekah, the owner, who said I was her first thru-hiker of the season. Minutes after that I was drinking a cold beer while showering (deeply satisfying, by the way), and minutes after that I was eating the biggest, best plank of roast beef that I have ever encountered.
In my bunk that night, comfortable, full, and clean, I tried to tie myself back into that morning at cloud Pond, a memory that seemed too far away to matter. That's the way it is on the trail: What's behind is behind, there is only forward.
Sunday, April 22, 2018 – Smith County, Tennessee
When I promised myself in 2008 that I would return for another Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 2018...well, I never realized how quickly a decade could pass. And anyway, 2018 sounded like science fiction, not reality. Surely that date would never come, but then if it did appear one New Year’s morning, maybe a bus would have taken me out by then, or a heart attack, or a round from an assault rifle. Family and friends well acquainted with the evening news (or perhaps a stifling succession of news feeds) fret about my welfare on a hike like this. I don’t. And besides, if something were to happen to me I would rather face it on the Appalachian Trail than elsewhere in the banal times we now inhabit.
I hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2001, was given the trail name “Solo” by the rangers at Baxter State Park in the state of Maine, then proceeded over the next four months and some to discover every frailty inherent in my body and spirit. That hike was a soul-searching mess. When it was over, I was dispirited, fifty pounds lighter, and couldn’t walk without a wobble. Within days though, with some food and a little rest, I began to berate myself for leaving the trail early. My mind was in a new place, no longer right between my shoulders but just a little to the left, where I was not always able to keep an eye on my mouth. This inability to self-censor caused me some personal and professional headaches, but I found that I didn’t care. Real life was on a trail in the mountains; everything else was just distraction.
But my failure to complete the Appalachian Trail in one thru-hike ate at me in every waking moment. It never left me. There was not a day that I didn’t recall some portion of that experience; not a day that I didn’t want to go back. I decided to return 2008, to turn 50 on the trail, and was so startled by my physical and mental transformation that I didn’t want the hike to end even as I raced toward that end with 35-mile-plus days, light on my feet and feeling 20 years younger. It was amazing.
I rocked that trail in 2008, finished on the very day I left it in 2001, September 27. It would be serendipitous if that happened again, but it wasn’t a goal in 2008 or a goal now. It would be cool, though, no doubt about it.
Hiking southbound once more, I expect to turn 60 somewhere in lower Maine. Ten years on, but I feel pretty well. I’m anxious only because of my age, but if this hike is anything like my 2008 hike, all of that anxiety will be dispelled by the time I clear the Hundred-Mile Wilderness. Of real concern this time is the wave after wave of bad weather New England encountered through the winter. It might be difficult to climb Katahdin, and White Cap might be impassable. So, starting with a base weight of twelve pounds, I’m going to add some extra cold-weather gear and perhaps avoid that severe bout of hypothermia I endured near Caratunk in 2008.
Time draws near; keep your eyes here. I’ll post a few things on Facebook, but the real action will be on this page.
“Solo” headin’ south.
Always forward, never backward; pass every white blaze.